Bell and Oak Leather Goods

Thoughts on Mindful Consumption

Bell and Oak Leather Goods
Bell and Oak Leather Goods

I read a really interesting essay by Chris Bowler: On Mindfulness and Quality. He provoked my thinking.

I don’t like to think of myself as materialistic, though I’m certain I’m more materialistic than I would care to admit. I’ve always, since the days of my youth, preferred to do without “stuff” until I could have something I felt was of quality, something with the earmarks of craftsmanship or was on the cutting edge. My grandmother, who never said a harsh word in her life, once said of young little me, “You have high ideas.” She did not mean this as a complement.

Color Jacket Tie Shirt Handkerchief But I do, in fact, have a reverence for quality, for craftsmanship, for those material things we own which have stood the test of time and become almost like good friends. Assuming my grandmother was right, that I was a bit of a snob despite my very humble beginnings, I never gave much thought about why I have had the notion that I would sincerely prefer to do without than to embrace 2nd or 3rd (or even worse) best into my sense of living life.

From time to time on my blog I’ve blogged titles that have danced around this theme with respect to style and fashion: Vintage, Masculine, and Classic. But why do some material things resonate with me? What imbues an object with a sense of value and quality?

Reading Chris Bowler’s article was one of those “That’s it. That’s exactly it!” moments. He brings conscious words to my subconscious reverence for things of quality. I liberally quote from his essay:

Quality items not only endure, they endear. … To buy cheap is to buy often.

But how do mere things endear themselves to us. Certainly, a thing isn’t actively “doing” anything to us as things have no conscious intent. Chris speaks of 4 factors that lead to our attachment to material things:

  1. Efficacy: A tool that enables you to perform a job with less friction than an alternative is worth your time–and money.
  2. Longevity: Nostalgia is a fascinating concept. An object can evoke emotions because of the experiences we build with it. This is true for Christmas ornaments and mix tapes. It can be even more noticeable for tools that have helped us get a job done, year after year. Only an effective, quality tool that lasts will have this effect on us.
  3. Quality
  4. Peace: When we buy stuff, the end result is we have to take care of it. Store it. Clean it. Back it up. The more stuff we have, the more work is involved and the more stressed we can become because of it. This fact is magnified when the stuff we buy is junk.

Metal ScissorsWow. That last point is well taken. It’s why I prefer Apple devices. While keeping things working for me, rather than my working to maintain the things, is a challenge with anything as sophisticated as a digital tool, Apple products have allowed me to keep a better balance between maintaining the tool and accomplishing with the tool.

And often, with digital tools, we don’t need more apps, we need a deeper understanding of the ones we have. We need to avoid using the tool as a substitute for skill development, creativity, and deeper thinking.

But his ideas don’t just apply to digital tools. His ideas even apply to clothes, clothes that become good friends because of the life experiences we enjoyed in them, their comforting textures, warmth, sense of style. Steve has always had a very difficult time parting with these old friends. He is beautifully sentimental!

We all consume. We simple must in order to survive. But we can have a better quality of life when we mindfully consume with these 4 factors at the forefront of our thinking when purchasing. Regrettably, at the heart of American culture is the notion that we must consume more and more to find worth and happiness. We are indeed a gluttonous bunch. But I believe that we can have less when we choose to have better, and that in so doing, we actually have more of what matters most in the end.